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Creative Spotlight: AJA Louden

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Edmonton artist AJA Louden started his artistic journey with just a stack of papers. As the first-born child to busy, entrepreneur parents, he would keep himself occupied by drawing. “That was kind of my first introduction to making things,” he says.

Today, Louden is best known for his street art and murals across Alberta. A few of his murals close to MacEwan University include artwork on Ming Shine, a car detailing shop on 105 St. 108 Ave.; “Dream Friends Journey,” located on 103 St. and 107 Ave. (look up!); and “The Stories that Weave Us,” featured on the Kingsway transit centre.

“I consider it an honour to be able to work with different groups,” says Louden, “whether it’s… a small business, or whether it’s a school group or a community centre… I feel a sense of honour that they trust me with the opportunity to make some type of image that will represent them.”

Louden’s artistic style is diverse. His works can range from cartoonish and illustrative to hyper-realistic, or reflect his roots with graffiti and street art. Since Louden collaborates extensively with the community, he says his style adjusts to fit the context and the collaborators he works with.

“One of the things that’s important to me when I do these community projects,” says Louden, “is finding a way to distil the voice of the community into this one image that can be meaningful for them for a long time and hopefully show a good face for that community too.”

“I find it really gratifying when people see themselves reflected in whatever we make together,” continues Louden.

Even with such a diverse body of work, Louden tries to convey a similar message with each of his pieces: “One of the things I try to do with my artwork is use my art as a lens to see the world in new ways to help me see other people in new ways. And I think that’s when art can be really helpful, to (give) us a lens into somebody else’s perspective.”

Louden is doing exactly that with his workshop, Aerosol Academy, that teaches participants about the history and culture of graffiti and street art, along with hands-on painting skills. “My motivation for teaching that workshop is to demystify graffiti a little bit for just the general public,” says Louden. “I’d love to see Edmonton and Alberta look and feel more like cities (where) I travel to (in) Europe, where graffiti is an accepted part of the visual culture. And so, I think this is one way for me to sort of teach the youth and explore new ideas around what our shared spaces could look like.”

Louden also ran a series of remote workshops called “Letters with Flavour” that taught kids how to draw their name in a way that reflected their personality and interests. He explains that a letter can be designed to look like a home country, it can look like it’s kicking a soccer ball, or it can even be dancing and playing a ukulele.

“Sometimes kids have a hard time with reading or hard time with language and this is a new route for them to be able to reclaim language, starting with their own name. And then when you can see words in a new way, when you can see letters as if they’re dancing, then for some kids it becomes a new route into making words and language and letters interesting,” says Louden.

For aspiring artists at MacEwan, Louden has a few pieces of advice: “You already have the tools that you need to get started,” he says. While some artists wait to share and promote their artwork until they think they are qualified, Louden says, “you don’t need to wait for somebody to give you some magic key that’s going to open all these doors for you.”

Louden also encourages artists to trust themselves and their intuition.

“These are going to come off kind of sounding a little cheesy to be honest,” he says with a laugh, “but they’re just all true.”

Keep an eye out for Louden’s work all across the city, especially Louden’s most recognizable symbol, Piney P — the sassy, sunglasses-wearing pineapple that can be seen hidden, sometimes in plain sight, throughout Edmonton. “You might see him 12 feet tall, you might see him kind of small and (on) some stickers too,” says Louden, who affectionately calls Piney P his son.

And on April 29 and 30, you’ll be able to watch Louden and three MacEwan students paint two murals on campus in celebration of MacEwan’s 50th anniversary.

Check out Louden’s work on ajalouden.com or on social media @ajalouden.

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